March 11th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL - WhatÂ’s wrong with AustraliaÂ’s defence?

Has Beazley got the "ticker" for a tough line on GST?

AS THE WORLD TURNS - Virtue: private and public

COVER STORY - People on the move: vexed question for government, nation

BOOKS: The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, by Richard Sennett

NATIONAL AFFAIRS - DemocratÂ’s "genocide" bill could put almost everyone in prison

NATIONAL AFFAIRS - Borrowed money, borrowed time

ECONOMICS - WTO stumbles as Third World rebels

COMMENT - Should homosexual couples have access to IVF services?

VICTORIA - Return of the Rust Bucket state?

IRIAN JAYA - Can Indonesia head off push for Papuan independence?

MEDICINE - Medical Journal has no space for criticism of Hepatitis C report

HISTORY: When, where and why 85 million people died

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WhatÂ’s wrong with AustraliaÂ’s defence?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 11, 2000
In an address to the Defence Watch Seminar in Canberra on February 17, the Secretary of the Defence Department, Dr Allan Hawke, declared that despite the outstanding efforts by Australian service personnel in Timor, "there is widespread dissatisfaction with Defence's performance in Canberra - from Ministers, central agencies within the public service, industry, and even from within the Defence organisation itself."

The problems he identified were a lack of understanding of "our mission, vision and values", even at senior levels in the department. This had created, he said, "what I would call a culture of learned helplessness among some defence senior managers - both military and civilian. Their perspective is one of disempowerment."

In light of the outstanding commitment and dedication of thousands of Australian army and naval personnel in East Timor last year, under difficult and dangerous conditions, it is reasonable to conclude that the causes of the malaise lie more in the administrative structure of the Department, than its personnel.

Symptoms of the problem are to be found in the report by the Commonwealth Auditor-General last December into the acquisition of two amphibious transport ships, purchased from the US in 1994.

The report showed a lack of proper examination of the ships prior to purchase, lack of control over expenditures after their acquisition, divided responsibility for the vessels' refit and repair, and no life cycle costing analysis.

Over five years after their purchase, the two ships, now called HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla, have still not been deployed, despite years of repairs and refurbishment. Their cost has blown out from the original $120 million to over $300 million, and may rise to $400 million.

A separate fiasco surrounded the construction of the new Collins class submarines, last year the subject of a damning report by Dr Malcolm Macintosh, former head of the CSIRO, and John Prescott, former head of BHP.

Of equal concern is the current strategic doctrine, put forward in December 1997 by the former Minister for Defence, Ian McLachlan.

The document, Australia's Strategic Policy, was clearly based on a strategy of continental defence, rather than active engagement in Asia. As Mr McLachlan said at the time: "It moves defence policy away from a narrow focus on responding to low-level contingency scenarios. It stresses instead our capacity to defend Australia in a wide range of circumstances by focussing on our maritime approaches."

In a press release at the same time, Mr. McLachlan repeated the point: "I made clear in my Parliamentary statement that having the capabilities to defeat attacks on Australia is the highest priority."

Considering the events in 1999 in East Timor, it is remarkable how wrong was the direction of Government defence policy.

Australia needs a capability to deploy an expeditionary force outside Australia, together with adequate naval and air forces to protect both Australia's coastline and its maritime exclusion zone.

As far as the Army was concerned, its role in the future will be far closer to what was required for the defence of Malaysia and South Vietnam in the 1960s, than the "continental defence" theory on which Australia's Strategic Policy is currently based.

The Navy's role is to control the oceans around Australia, and develop the capability to deploy and supply Australian and allied military forces outside Australia.

This multi-faceted role includes coastal patrol and interception of illegal entry, protection of Australia's fishing resources inside the maritime exclusion zone, as well as responding to potential enemies and support for Australian military forces operating beyond Australian waters.

The Timor mission highlighted serious deficiencies in the Australian navy, including the absence of command and control facilities, no heavy lift helicopters, only one ship with limited capacity for launching amphibious landing craft, and no aircraft carriers, which provide platforms for both military operations and peace-keeping.

The starting point for any review of Australia's defence is the revision of Australia's strategic doctrine, to meet the reasonably foreseeable contingencies which could confront Australia over the next 10 years.

These include the possibility of further breakdown situations in countries to the near north of Australia; the necessity to secure Australia's long coastline and maritime zone; and commitments to participate in joint military operations, in conjunction with other nations, further from Australia.

Once the tasks are defined, the challenge will be to adapt the existing defence forces to meet the tasks, and for the Government to devote sufficient resources to their achievement. Australia's force structure needs to be determined in the light of the strategic doctrine, not independent of it.

Unless these issues are addressed, the establishment of new planning committees, to deal with "organisational effectiveness" and "organisational renewal", as outlined recently by the Secretary of the Defence Department, are unlikely to achieve what he described as "fundamental renewal from within".

In fact, they may very well worsen the problem.

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